Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"The Mosquito Fleet" in World War II

PT 511 crew
Although PT boats are usually associated with the Pacific Theater of Operations during WWII, they served all over the world including in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Mediterranean Oceans. Today is the anniversary of a last ditch effort by the German Navy to reinforce their garrison in Le Havre during WWII, a port overlooking the D-Day beaches that had been cut off by the Allied advance after June 6. On the night of August 26, a small group of landing craft and R-boats approached Le Havre with ammunition and supplies. HMS Retalick, a Royal Navy frigate, detected the convoy and guided three PT boats into the area to launch an attack. PT 511, PT 514, and PT 520 approached and fired six torpedoes without being discovered. They sank two artillery ferries, AF-98 and AF 108, before the German escorts found them and returned fire. The PTs withdrew through heavy fire without sustaining any casualties.

Most of the men on those PT boats probably received their training just up the road from the Naval War College in Melville, RI. The Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons Training Center (MTBSTC) was established in February 1942 to train officers and enlisted personnel in all aspects of PT boat operations. The men lived in Quonset huts and trained aboard ten boats assigned to MTB Squadron Four. By March 1945, 1,800 officers and more than 11,000 enlisted men had graduated from the training program.

Gift of Gift of Mr. W. Ogden Ross and Mr. Leighton C. Wood
Gift to the Naval War College Foundation by Mr. Anthony S. Marchetti
The Navy nicknamed its PT Boats “The Mosquito Fleet,” and hence many of the MTB Squadron unit insignia featured mosquitos in their design. Much like WWII bomber nose art, these insignia helped to build unit pride while also providing a way for squadron members to distinguish themselves from the rest of the Navy in a world where uniformity was the norm. The insignia for Squadrons 21 and 43 demonstrate the creativity that artists brought to this task. Squadron 21 saw service in the South Pacific during the war, while Squadron 43 was decommissioned and its boats transferred to the Soviet Union as part of lend lease. The MTBSTC closed in 1945, although the Navy continued to operate a fuel depot in Melville until 1973.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

On This Day in History: Beginning of the New Steel Navy

Seventeen years after the Civil War ended, the U.S. Navy still looked very much like the fleet that had been built to blockade the Southern ports and chase down Confederate commerce raiders. The Navy in 1882 consisted of fourteen ironclads (mostly Civil War-era monitors) and a few wooden sailing vessels. The most powerfully armed among them mounted nothing larger than a five-inch smoothbore gun. One popular journalist of the era commented that the country had no more need for its weak navy “than a peaceable giant would have for a stuffed club or a tin sword.”

This lack of modernization was partly a byproduct of an ongoing debate about what the postbellum Navy’s role should be and what types of ships, if any, should be built. Many Americans who had lived through the Civil War wanted nothing more to do with military conflict, and some felt that strong coastal fortifications would be enough to protect America’s coasts without getting entangled in foreign affairs.

Beginning in 1881, Secretary of the Navy William H. Hunt convened a naval advisory board to try to address the lamentable state of the Navy. The fifteen members of the board felt that the Navy should begin a new construction program, but they disagreed over whether the new ships should be sail or steam-driven, what kind of armament they should carry, and whether their hulls should be made of iron or steel.

Print by Frederick Cozzens depicting Atlanta, Chicago, Yorktown, and Boston
Gift of Mr. Edward A. Sherman III
Though they never reached full consensus, the board recommended that Congress set aside $29 million for the construction of sixty-eight new vessels. The House Naval Affairs Committee rejected this proposal as too costly. In any event, the assassination of President James Garfield put all plans on hold, and incoming President Chester A. Arthur replaced Hunt with his own pick for Secretary of the Navy, William E. Chandler. Chandler was also a proponent of modernization and successfully lobbied Congress to move forward with a drastically scaled back construction program.

Model of protected cruiser ChicagoScale: 1/8" = 1'
On loan from Curator of Ship Models, Naval Sea Systems Command
On August 5, 1882, Congress authorized the construction of two steel warships without appropriating any funds for them, insisting that the money come from somewhere else within the existing budget. This tepid response marked the beginning of an era that naval historians refer to as the New Navy. It would be one more year before another appropriations bill passed that set aside money for new construction, and this time for four ships: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, and Dolphin, known as the ABCD ships. Though construction was delayed by numerous setbacks, these first four ships of the new era announced to the rest of the world that the United States was intent on becoming a modern naval power.

Alfred Thayer Mahan, a two-time former President of the Naval War College and author of several important works on naval strategy, commanded Chicago from 1893-1895. During that period he sailed to Europe to make official visits as part of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage. Mahan was widely respected among the European elite for his seminal work, The Influence of Seapower upon History, 1660-1783, and received honorary degrees from Oxford and Cambridge while visiting the United Kingdom. His writing formed the basis for much of the early curriculum at the Naval War College where students set about trying to formulate the tactics and strategies that the ABCD ships and their successors would be called upon to implement.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum

Friday, July 31, 2015

Historical Paraphrasing – Battle of Mobile Bay


Commander T.A.M. Craven, commanding the monitor Tecumseh, was in the lead as four monitors formed a single column to the right of the wooden ships entering Mobile Bay.  The lead wooden ship was Brooklyn, Captain James Alden commanding.  This was the vanguard of Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut’s Western Gulf Squadron as they attempted to run into Mobile Bay, passing through the Confederate torpedo field blocking the way, on August 5, 1864.
At 0647, Tecumseh’s guns opened fire but the wooden ships had to endure the enemy’s fire for one-half hour before being able to bring their broadsides to bear with any effect.  Knowing the wooden ships would have to withstand the initial attack, Rear Admiral Farragut, ordered the ships to be formed into a double column and then lashed in pairs.  His flagship, USS Hartford, Fleet-Captain Percival Drayton commanding, was tied to Metacomet with Lieutenant Commander James E. Jouett commanding. 

Farragut took a position in the port main rigging, a few ratlins up, so he could view everything around him while still being able to converse with Drayton and Jouett.  As the battle progress and visibility was obscured due to smoke, Farragut would ascend the rigging as required.

It was 0730 when Commander Craven made his fatal error.  In his haste to engage the Confederate ship Tennessee, he chose to pass to the west of the buoy marking the eastern end of the torpedo line.  Tecumseh struck a mine and, within two minutes, sank with the loss of one hundred and thirteen men.  Brooklyn, seeing what had happened to Tecumseh, began to slow causing the following ships to converge and creating a state of confusion.
Realizing that his plan could turn into a disaster very quickly, Farragut asked what was the trouble.  The answer came back, “Torpedoes!”  To which Farragut uttered his famous response, “Damn the torpedoes!  Four bell! Captain Drayton, go ahead!  Jouett, full speed!”

This response, of course, has been shortened and paraphrased over time to “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” 
by John Kennedy, Director of Education
picture showing Farragut "Lashed to the Shrouds" from Library of Congress Collection


Monday, July 27, 2015

Artifact in the Spotlight: Beginnings of the Coast Guard

The Revenue Cutter Service was established by Congress on August 4, 1790.  Congress authorized the construction of 10 vessels to enforce federal tariff and trade laws and prevent smuggling. The service received its present name, U.S. Coast Guard, in 1915 under an act of Congress that merged the Revenue Cutter Service with the Life-Saving Service, thereby providing the nation with a single maritime service dedicated to saving life at sea and enforcing the nation's maritime laws. (Artifact in the Naval War College Museum collection)

by John Kennedy
Director of Education

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

From Hero to Penury

On July 18, 1779, Commodore Abraham Whipple’s squadron, consisting of Continental frigates Providence, Queen of France and sloop Ranger, captured the largest value of prize vessels during the American Revolution.  Having left from Boston one month prior, they sailed east toward the Newfoundland Banks where they met and captured 11 British vessels sailing from Jamaica, later valued in excess of one million dollars.
Abraham Whipple was born September 26, 1733, in Providence, Rhode Island, to Noah and Mary (Dexter) Whipple.  Taking to the sea at an early age, Whipple learned seamanship and navigation and quickly established himself as a captain plying the West Indies trade routes.  But it was during the French and Indian War (1754-1763) that his courage and daring gained him success as a privateer operating against French vessel.  During the period 1759-1760, he is credited with capturing thirty-three prizes, a number that attests to his skill and daring.
As a ship captain, his reputation continued to grow; however, it was in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War that Whipple stepped up and became one of the early leaders of the cause for freedom.  It was on the night of June 9, 1772 when the HMS Gaspee ran aground.  Whipple led a group of fifty men to capture the vessel and burn it to the waterline, shedding what was arguably the first blood shed in the revolutionary cause. 
Upon the creation of the Rhode Island Navy, Whipple became its first commodore.  In the sloop Katy, he immediately sought out the enemy.  His first effort was in Narragansett Bay when he engaged the tender Diana, capturing and sending her into Providence. 
Appointed to the rank of captain in the Continental Navy by the naval committee on December 22, 1775,  his commission as captain of the Providence was not signed by John Hancock until October 10, 1776. 
Shortly after his success off of the Newfoundland Banks, however, his luck ran out.  Sent to augment the defenses of Charleston, South Carolina, which was being besieged by the British, Commodore Whipple and his squadron were outmanned and outgunned and ultimately captured when the city fell. 
He, as the commander of naval forces, was placed on a parole of honor by British Vice Admiral Arbuthnot and, as he was not quickly exchanged, he saw little action during the remainder of the Revolutionary War.
Upon returning to his farm in Cranston, RI, Whipple is unable to pay debt that had accumulated during his absence as Congress refused to disburse back pay to the captain who had captured over a million dollars’ worth of trade.  When pay was finally forthcoming, he had to sell the securities at an eighty percent discount.  In 1788 he moved with his wife to the Northwest Territory, present day Ohio, where he is forced to apply to Congress for a pension.  He was awarded a pension of $30 dollars per month, considered half-pay for a captain at the time.
He died in Marietta, Ohio, May 19, 1819, at the age of eighty-six.
By John Kennedy, Director of Education

The WAVES Arrive

            It was on July 30, 1942, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the act establishing the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).  Initially established as a subset of the Naval Reserves as the U.S. Naval Reserve (Women’s Reserve), the acronym WAVES stuck.  The word “Emergency” had been inserted into the name to give an implicit understanding that women would not be allowed to continue following the war’s conclusion.  Despite the negative reception that was initially received by the women, from society at large  unprepared to accept women in a military role and by males in general, the women served well in any role given, even though their participation was severely restricted to opportunities in the continental United States. 
            It was not until the passage of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act (Public Law 625) on June 12, 1948, that women achieved a permanent, regular status in the Navy.  Women were still excluded, however, from vessels that might see combat.

            During the World War II, the accession programs for women entering the Volunteer Reserve had been the V9 WAVE Officer Candidate Volunteer Program and the V10 WAVE Enlisted Rating Volunteer Program.  With the transition to regular status, the programs were renamed to W9 Women’s Officer Training and W10 Women’s Enlisted Training programs.
            Newport, Rhode Island, a town of many naval firsts (first Naval Training Station, first War College) soon added a new first by establishing the first indoctrination unit for women naval officers in the United States.  It was advertised as the “Annapolis for Women.”

The Women Officers Quarters (WOQ) was Building 113 and was located across from the garage on Perry Street, the site of the recently demolished Building 444.  They ate at the Commissioned Officers’ Mess (Closed) in Building 108, which is now the parking lot across from Brett Hall.  Their average mess bill was $42.00.  As outlined in the 1951 Officer Indoctrination Unit (W) Handbook, “Faultless grooming shall be observed at all time” and “Religion, politics, men and women are not discussed at the mess table.”
Captain Joy Bright Hancock was promoted to the rank of captain in July 1946 and appointed to lead the WAVES.  She was one of the first eight women to be commissioned in the regular Navy and then continued to lead in the position of Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel for Women until 1953.  In the OIU (W) Handbook, Captain Hancock listed four rules for a successful woman naval officer: (1) Know and obey the regulations; (2) Know your enlisted personnel and discharge unceasingly your responsibilities to them; (3) When assigned, give that assignment everything you possess, be the job routine or difficult; and (4) Bring only credit to your service by your personal appearance and your conduct.  She stated, “The easiest way to live up to this fourth rule is to remember always that you are a lady – for a lady in the truest sense of the word is a woman whose habits, manners, and sentiments are those characteristic of the highest degree of refinement.” 
Congratulations to the WAVES and their proud history, as well as those who have followed.
Posted by John Kennedy, Director of Museum Education

Friday, July 17, 2015

Bennington - A Hard-luck History

            Located in the southwest corner of Vermont, Bennington was the site of a battle that took place in 1777 as a part of the larger Saratoga campaign that led to the surrender of General John Burgoyne.
            The Navy commissioned its Bennington on June 20, 1891.  It was Gunboat No. 4 and was part of a new class of steel-hulled gunboats.  On July 21, 1905, she experienced a boiler explosion and sank with the loss of one officer and 65 men being killed.  All of those who survived suffered some injury.  Although refloated, her condition precluded repairs and she was scrapped.
            The second Bennington commissioned was USS Bennington (CV-20).  Following sea trials in December 1944, she saw extensive action in the Pacific during the final phases of World War II.  After the war, Bennington was decommissioned and mothballed as part of the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.  Four years later, she was modernized to be able to accept the new jet aircraft and placed in active service with the new designation of an attack aircraft carrier (CVA-20). 
            While on a training cruise in 1953, Bennington suffered an explosion in her number 1 fireroom.  While the fire claimed the lives of eleven men, the damage control team was able to minimize damage. 
            The following year, USS Bennington was conducting carrier qualifications for the embarked Air Group 181.  On the morning of May 26 as she began to launch aircraft, a series of explosion rocked the ship as the port side catapult accumulator burst and released vaporized lubricating oil which then detonated, enveloping the wardroom and crew’s mess.  While the crew fought the fire and tried to save their ship, they were able to launch all aircraft.  Ninety-one men were killed outright and twelve would die later from their injuries.  Over 203 were injured. 
Eighty-two casualties were brought to the Naval Hospital in Newport, many in serious and critical condition.  They had been brought by helicopter to the hospital pier and by ambulance the rest of the way.  Local civilian physicians and nurses augmented naval medical personnel from the base and the fleet.  Over 1600 blood donors were received on the first call.  Many of the lives that were saved were the result of helicopters evacuating the wounded to shore facilities for rapid treatment and  the long hours of dedicated care by medical personnel. 
            Bennington went through extensive repairs and, while in the yards, received an angled flight deck for improved air operations and an enclosed hurricane bow for protection in heavy weather.
            In 1995, the Bennington became the first aircraft carrier to be sold for scrap outside the United States.  There has not been another naval vessel named Bennington.
            On May 26, 2004, a bronze plaque was located at Fort Adams State Park to memorialize the event and the crewmembers who died.

John Kennedy
Director of Education